The attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York said yesterday that they will refuse to comply with a subpoena from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) regarding their probes into Exxon Mobil Corp.’s track record on climate change.

Attorneys General Maura Healey (D) and Eric Schneiderman (D), respectively the top law enforcement officials in Massachusetts and New York, told Smith yesterday that his request for documents related to their investigations interferes with states’ rights. Both said their inquires are about fraud, not scientific disagreement, and leveled multiple objections.

“This subpoena is sweeping in its scope and completely unprecedented,” Richard Johnston, counsel at Healey’s office, said in a letter. “The Committee has no legal authority to tamper with a state attorney general’s investigation into possible violations of state law by Exxon Mobil.”

Representing Schneiderman, Leslie Dubeck said the committee’s stated purpose that it is defending free-speech protections “cannot be anything but pretense.”

In a letter written on Scheiderman’s behalf, Dubeck said: “The Subpoena brings us one step closer to a protracted, unnecessary legal confrontation, which will only distract and detract from the work of our respective offices.”

Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, announced the subpoena two weeks ago on Capitol Hill. Four other House Republicans joined him (ClimateWire, July 14).

“The committee has a responsibility to make certain that Americans are free to express their views on science and public policy,” Smith said at the announcement.

He said the subpoenas sent to attorneys general and several environmental advocacy groups are meant “to protect the First Amendment rights of companies, academic institutions, scientists and nonprofit organizations.”

Smith vows to press on

Yesterday’s letters represent the latest developments in the tension between Smith and Healey and Schneiderman. The pair of attorneys general have long said their investigations are designed to determine if Exxon violated state laws by misleading investors and the public about what company officials knew about climate change.

“These actions only raise additional questions about why the AGs refuse to be open and honest about their coordination with environmental extremist groups,” Smith said in an emailed statement from a spokeswoman, referring to Healey and Schneiderman’s decisions not to comply.

“The Committee will use all tools at its disposal to further its investigation,” Smith said.

Smith and industry groups contend that the probes amount to a crusade against scientific debate and those who do not believe in climate change. The attorneys general of Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas, all Republicans, have sided with Smith and Exxon, too (ClimateWire, May 17).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) recently said investigations into Exxon are “about the criminalization of speech and the criminalization of thought.”

An Exxon spokesman declined to comment.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the environmental groups Smith subpoenaed, said yesterday that it would not comply, either.

“Your claim of an interest in preserving ‘research free from intimidation’ grossly misrepresents the attorneys general investigation, which focuses on whether Exxon Mobil’s willful distortion of the work of company scientists constitutes fraud,” Neil Quinter, an attorney for UCS, wrote to Smith.

Healey said she offered to discuss her objections to document requests from Smith before he subpoenaed her office, but Smith filed the subpoena without noting that offer.

“This sequence of events suggests that the Majority had no intention of considering the substance of Attorney General Healey’s objections,” the letter reads.

Kristin Kopshever, a spokeswoman for the minority on the committee, said, “It is true that the AGs and some of the groups have offered to talk to the chairman. I’m not certain they offered to meet.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500